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Guts (or, getting the courage to face someone else judging your work)

May 29, 2012

I have a friend who’s a pretty decent writer. There are spots where her writing could improve–which makes her like pretty much every writer who’s drawing breath. But she’s got a lot of promise.

What she doesn’t have is guts. She’s terrified of people seeing her work and judging her harshly because of it. It’s a reasonable fear.

About fifteen years ago, I read a book that angered me enough to throw it out when I was done with it, so no one would ever be subjected to such torture again. There’s a well-known author I refuse to read any more because one of her more recent efforts was a waste of time and money.

It’s a reasonable fear. In this case, not having guts isn’t an indictment, it’s something all writers face from time to time.

The first time I took my work to my first critique group, I was a mess. I’d been critiquing there for several meetings, so as to gain some credibility before thrusting my work in front of peoples’ faces. I knew my sample was pretty good. But as I made the copies and stapled them together, I started to fret.

The critique group was on a Monday night, so off to work I went, mostly paying attention to my job, but not entirely dismissing the voices in my head.

What if it sucks? What if they read it and hate it? What if they read it and hate you for peddling such crap? What if they look at you funny and say “What kind of mind produces this kind of sick crap?”

Mostly, though, the voice said What if it sucks?

If you’re looking to get your work critiqued for the first time, you probably have a similar voice asking similar questions, so here are the answers.

It probably doesn’t suck. But even if it does, understanding your flaws is the first step toward correcting them. One of the habits I picked up from my literary inspiration, Robert B. Parker, is the overuse of dialog tags. Try listening to a Spenser or Jesse Stone on CD sometime. Said said said said said said said, with each piece of dialog. That part of my writing sucked. I fixed it. Next.

They aren’t going to hate you for what you put on the page. If they’re a decent group, they’ll go easy on you–it being your first time–but still give you the feedback to help you improve. If they’re hostile or they ridicule you, that’s not an indication that you’re lacking. Groups that do that give newbies aren’t worth your effort to be part of.

Unless you’re writing stuff we don’t typically talk about on this blog, they won’t think you’re a wacko. Think about it. 50 Shades of Grey is about people getting tied up and having sex. And it’s the biggest, bestest new thing to come along since the last biggest, bestest new thing. And if you are writing stuff like that, feel them out before you submit. If the participants are embarrassed by erotica, you probaby won’t get decent feedback anyway.

It’s all about taking that one step and taking the chance that someone might not love your work, so they can help you make your work more solid.

One Comment
  1. May 29, 2012 4:12 pm

    My best advice is don’t let your spouce read your work. Imperfect strangers is much better.

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